Worth A Look: 73.33%
Just Average: 23.33%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
4 reviews, 6 user ratings
|Fast and Furious 6
by Brett Gallman
Somehow, “The Fast and The Furious” has spawned the most inexplicable franchise of our time—and I mean that in the most complimentary fashion imaginable. What started as a pretty decent Nos-infused riff on “Point Break” mutated into a globe-hopping, “Oceans 11” inspired heist film with 2011’s “Fast Five,” which also took the series to new, glorious heights (something rarely said about the 4th sequel in any franchise, much less one that revolves around a bunch of gearheads living by a “ride or die” philosophy). If that film earned the franchise a lifetime pass, then “Furious 6” has me hoping that there’s an endless stretch of quarter-miles unfolding before us into eternity.Its plot has been discernible ever since the mid-credits sequence from “Fast Five” gave up the ghost: Dominic Toretto’s dead lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) didn’t perish two movies ago after all. Instead, she’s rolling with Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a criminal mastermind whose crew has been wreaking havoc across four continents. Their latest hit on a military target draws the attention of DEA agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson); along with his new partner (Gina Carano), he snuffs out Shaw’s plan to acquire a highly valuable and dangerous device capable of wiping out an entire country’s security infrastructure.
"Tank ain't empty, cuz."
As Shaw’s crew is adept at vehicular warfare, Hobbs concocts the only logical scheme in this universe: partner up with Toretto’s newly reformed crew, who are essentially charged with the task of saving the world in exchange for full pardons forgiving their previous crimes.
That’s an incredible leap considering Dom and company were once a bunch of kunckleheads staging elaborate heists of DVD players before now graduating to James Bond territory, a fact of which the film is glibly self-aware. It wisely refuses to wink at the absurdity, as director Justin Lin and company have too much genuine affection for these characters to stick them in a knowing farce. Keeping a franchise like this from descending into outright parody is a somewhat remarkable feat, even though these characters have been just short of cartoons from the beginning.
With “Fast Five,” Lin figured out the appeal of allowing these various personalities to play off of each other as they attempt to pull off a ridiculous heist, and he repeats that formula here; however, “Furious Six” feels more intimate despite its expanded scope and stakes—it’s a film that gets back to Dom’s charmingly boneheaded sense of family values, which provides plenty of fodder for simplistic platitudes. “You don’t turn your back on family—even when they do,” may well sum up this franchise about as aptly as possible, especially as he’s picking a bullet from his flesh as he utters it (likewise, no matter how many critical bullets you plug into this franchise, it brushes them off and swaggers on). It’s an earnest, ham-handed sentiment delivered with absolute conviction by Diesel, whose emoting is somehow as effective and awkward as ever in its distinctive, monosyllabic sort of way.
Dom and Letty’s reunion serves as the backbone for “Furious 6,” a film that once again refuses to directly ape its predecessor. While it does repeat many of the beats and structure of “Fast Five,” it eventually takes a life of its own. The film admittedly feels quite familiar early on—a (mostly) quiet prologue features the birth of Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia’s (Jordanna Brewster) child before giving way to the requisite “getting the band back together montage.” From there, it expectedly unravels with a series of action sequences buttressed by what passes for character stuff; like “Fast Five,” the middle section of the film is concerned with each team member utilizing their specific talents, and the script smartly avoids complete repetition by presenting some different parings this time around—for example, Ludacris and Johnson form an unexpected duo that sets out to acquire some cars, while Tyrese and Sung Kang pair off with Carano and Gal Gadot to track down one of Shaw’s dealers.
For the most part, these diversions work due to the cast’s spectacular chemistry. As ever, the script doesn’t afford them anything approaching genuine wit—it’s the same sort of jockish ball-busting and one-liners that have defined this series since its inception, but it works so well that I hope it never bothers to improve in this respect. These films almost always manage to hit on just the right level of stupid, obvious humor and gags, and “Furious 6” is no different—it’s the type of movie that knows you should be laughing at it but doesn’t give a shit, so it plunges ahead with repeated jokes made at the expense of Tyrese’s anatomy and a sequence where The Rock and Ludacris force a guy to strip. “Furious 6” is basically one of the dumbest guys at a frat party, but it’s also the most confident since it gets away with its impish charms.
I mean, it even features the most eye-rolling of plot devices when it reveals that Letty has been suffering from amnesia; it’s an absolutely cliché conceit that’s still kind of serviceable since it leads to some genuine tension (not to mention a howler of a scene where Dom recounts Letty’s scars—move over “Jaws”). If anything, the amnesia’s subplot’s biggest problem is that it gives way for the film’s most unnecessary digression, which finds Brian trekking back to Los Angeles to untangle the events of “Fast & Furious.”
Even though it provides some vital information, it reeks of Walker’s agents finally stepping in and demanding that their client be given something to do besides play a beta male with nothing better to do than sniff Diesel’s fumes. It’s also sheer continuity porn that gives the film a chance to reintroduce some familiar faces and introduce a predictably absurd ret-con, and it feels wedged into the proceedings (I’m still not sure that the sequence even serves the larger goal in locating and capturing Shaw—it basically feels like Brian decides to smuggle himself back to L.A. in an effort to get info that would be easily obtained by a phone call to the right government agencies).
But the film comes out the other side quite unscathed—of course it embarks on a largely unnecessary and contrived sequence because that’s what this series does at this point. “Furious 6” itself obviously represents an escalation in this respect, especially when it blasts into another gear during an incredible two-pronged climax. Much of the film unfolds almost tidily since it hews so closely to the previous film’s structure; for once, it seems like the franchise might play it a little safe before it finally goes bonkers. It edges into both 007 and “24” territory with various twists and turns (one of which is pure shock value), and it breathlessly charges through them—it’s pure, relentless blockbuster filmmaking. “Furious 6” doesn’t just ask you to turn off your brain—it performs the lobotomy for you, albeit with surgical precision, as its senselessness never outpaces its exhilaration. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that you need a steady supply of NOS to outrun a silly script.
Lin’s feel for pacing and escalating the action is on display once again, too. Each sequence in the film is more breathtaking than the last, and most of them are appreciably realized with practical effects and some absolutely deranged stunt work. After totaling up the sheer carnage, I’d be shocked if this didn’t set some kind of new demolition record, as dozens of vehicles are chewed up and spit out with reckless abandon—there are heaps of cars reduced to scrap metal in the wake of Shaw’s custom-made glorified dune buggies and a steamrolling tank. Like its predecessor, “Furious 6” isn’t content to just mangle and twist steel. Multiple brawls, shoot-outs, and even a nostalgic street race pepper the action, which arrives early and often but never wears out its welcome.
The centerpieces include chases centered around a tank and a plane, with the latter representing the culmination of this franchise’s utterly gonzo spirit. Both are impressively and meticulously crafted, full of death-defying stunts and a blatant disregard for physics, but the airplane sequence is a glorious realization of excess that throws every principal cast member into the ultimate “Fast & Furious” battle royal. Vehicles dangle from other vehicles while people brawl in or on them, and Lin marvelously cuts between the sprawling carnage to find rousing moments throughout; this is a film that knows big beats and delivers them with bombast—even something as simple as Diesel and Johnson filling the frame side-by-side feels momentous.
A lot of this sequence unfolds under moonlight, which renders some of it a bit murky (the same is true of an earlier chase through London), so the preceding tank scene might be a bit more aesthetically pleasing. Still, the climax is truly too admirable to deny for its sheer sense of chaos: vehicles explode out of vehicles as if it were a demolition derby by way of a Russian nesting doll while over a half dozen people are pummeling each other. The combat is solid throughout, especially since Carano and Joe Taslim bring some immediate credibility to their scenes—there’s a lot of burliness and physicality on display, but it doesn’t some without a sense of flair this time around. This is exquisitely orchestrated stuff that even feels a little weighty since it features such an endearing bunch among it.
That commitment to characters and the franchise’s mythos might be the most inexplicable thing about the “Fast and Furious” series. For a series that’s been insistent on absorbing and replicating every possible blockbuster mode, it’s crafted an enormously likeable, good-natured world populated by a weird mix of meatheads and pseudo Zen masters. Diesel’s exemplifies both as its center of gravity—his Toretto is both a hulking, guttural collection of rigid physicality and a soulful warrior all at once. His opposite is Johnson’s blustery, blazing Hobbs, a sweltering mass prone to odd fits of vocabulary and a penchant for punctuating every sentence with “sumbitch.” Whereas the latter stole the show the last time out, the two work much better in “Furious 6,” and their begrudging respect for one another recalls the macho bromance that’s diffused throughout the franchise.
I’d say that watching those two alone would suffice, but the surrounding cast is too fun: Tyrese has become sort of the franchise mascot, and he’s so much fun that even the franchise’s nadir, “2 Fast 2 Furious,” can’t be dismissed for introducing him. Likewise, Kang has become indispensable as the ever cool and aloof Han, a character with somewhat tragic underpinning since his fate has been presaged by the events in “Tokyo Drift.” Even Walker has managed to carve out his own little spot here—he still hasn’t quite ascended to Dom’s equal (despite the film’s best efforts), but, like most of the gang, he has a respectable arc.
The franchise has lacked consistently compelling, memorable villains (unless you count Diesel and Johnson when they were operating in such a capacity), and “Furious 6” doesn’t quite provide it just yet. Evans is serviceable as Shaw, who is essentially the same old Machiavellian puppet master that’s become a blockbuster staple lately. His team is likewise a collection of types that vaguely mirror their counterparts; most of them aren’t nearly as distinctive, but Kim Kold is a mountain of man who should have a long career as a brutish henchman ahead of him. If this series ever matches Dom and his crew up against a worthy opponent, the result could be astonishing.
It’s possible that will happen in the next film, which is already in the works with James Wan taking over for Lin. The change feels appropriate since Wan ushered in “Saw,” a franchise that became a twisty, convoluted endeavor full of fan-service and intricate continuity. Between the increasing complexity of its plot and its numerous nods, “Furious 6” is blazing a trail in that direction; while it’s still completely accessible to more casual audiences, I like that it respects the fan base that’s stuck around for twelve years. A week after “Star Trek Into Darkness” attempted to skate by on empty fan service, “Furious 6” does it right by truly grasping the appeal of the familiar and threading it with thematic resonance. If not for a mid-credits stinger that made me leap in my chair, this could serve as the conclusion for the franchise—there’s a sort of valedictory air about the way it wraps this chapter up.“Furious 6” would send the series out on another high note—it just edges out “Fast Five” as its best entry, if only for its deeper commitment to the long-running plot threads. That gathering was akin to a gimmicky party; this one is more like a really raucous dinner with old friends, complete with a blessing. Thankfully, there’s no quit in it, though, and I don’t think it has much interesting in approaching a finish line; instead, I’m pretty sure it already blew right through it and decided to do some victory laps.
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originally posted: 05/23/13 21:40:04